Kharkiv (Ukraine) (AFP), September 10 – Russia announced on Saturday that it was withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region as Kyiv announced that its troops had seized a key logistics hub in a lightning counteroffensive.
A Moscow-backed separatist leader in the east said Russian forces were fighting “tough” battles against Kyiv troops in several parts of the eastern Donetsk region.
A Ukrainian official also said Kyiv troops were closing in on the eastern town of Lysychansk, captured by Russian troops after fierce artillery battles in July.
Moscow’s announcement of withdrawal alongside Kyiv’s assertion of entering the city of Kupyansk are the most significant changes in the dynamics of the battlefield after months of fighting in eastern Ukraine. by Moscow.
“A decision has been taken to regroup Russian troops stationed in the Balakliya and Izyum regions to strengthen efforts along the Donetsk front,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
News of the withdrawal came just after Ukrainian special forces posted images on social media showing officers in camouflage uniforms with automatic weapons “in Kupiansk”.
The town of some 27,000 people – which was captured in the first week of the Russian invasion launched on February 24 – “was and always will be Ukrainian”, the special forces said.
But observers expect Ukrainian forces to make further gains in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia and has been either controlled by Russia or bombarded by its artillery for months.
– “Amazing” advance –
There was no official confirmation that troops from Kyiv had also routed Russian forces from Iyzum – an important staging ground for Russia’s war effort – with a pre-war population of about 45,000 people.
But footage flooding social media appeared to show Ukrainian forces in the city and Russian observers of the conflict said there were initial reports that Moscow’s military had already withdrawn.
“Ukrainian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, liberating more towns and villages. Their courage coupled with Western military support is bringing amazing results,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement on social media.
“It is crucial to continue sending arms to Ukraine. Defeating Russia on the battlefield means winning peace in Ukraine,” he added.
His assessment came after President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday night that his troops had already retaken some 30 towns and villages in the northeast Kharkiv region.
Ukraine’s push appears to have caught Russian troops largely off guard.
A day before Russia announced its three-day operation to redeploy forces from Kharkiv to the industrial Donbass region further south, it announced that it was sending reinforcements to Kharkiv.
State media released images on Friday of Russian tanks, artillery and support vehicles moving in columns on dirt roads heading towards Kharkiv.
– ‘Scary’ –
Capture of urban hubs like Kupiansk and Izyum would be a blow to Russia’s ability to resupply its positions on the eastern frontline and could see Russia’s hold on the east severely diminished.
In a village captured by the advancing Ukrainians, electricity pylons were knocked down and cables lay on the ground and houses were gutted, AFP journalists reported.
On the road to the recaptured town of Balakliya, journalists saw abandoned Russian armor painted with the letter “Z” – a symbol of the invasion of Russia.
Ukrainian troops were also advancing along parts of the southern front line, a spokesman said on Saturday, in some areas for tens of kilometers into territory captured by Russian troops at the start of the invasion.
Russian news agencies meanwhile reported six large explosions in Nova Kakhovka, a town held by Russian troops in the southern region of Kherson.
Meanwhile, in the eastern Donetsk region, rebel leader Denis Pushilin said the situation in the town of Lyman was “very difficult” and there was also fighting in “a number of other localities”. , especially in the northern part of the region.
– “We will be alongside Ukraine” –
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday for a surprise visit, which she said was meant to demonstrate Berlin’s support for Ukraine.
It came a week after Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal traveled to Berlin where he reiterated Kyiv’s call for arms.
Baerbock pledged to continue “weapons deliveries, and with humanitarian and financial support”.
In recent weeks, Germany has sent an array of weapons to Kyiv, complementing other Western-supplied weapons that observers say have harmed Russia’s supply and command capabilities.
Baerbock’s visit follows that of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which he pledged a military package worth nearly $3 billion for Ukraine.
In a meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Blinken said Russia’s efforts to send reinforcements showed Moscow was paying “enormous costs” in its bid to capture and then retain the Ukrainian territory.
However, Russian forces were still inflicting serious damage with a bombing campaign in the city of Kharkiv and the industrial region of Donbass to the east.
Kharkiv region chief Oleg Synegubov said Russian shelling on the city’s Kholodnogirskiy district on Saturday left at least one dead and two injured.
Earlier, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region, which is part of Donbass, said Russian shelling left two people dead.
Concerns have also risen in recent days over further shelling near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the south of the country.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that recent attacks near the plant had compromised the safe operation of the facility.
French President Emmanuel spoke to Zelensky on Saturday and said the situation at the factory was “worrying”, according to the Elysee.
The Ukrainian leader again said the site should be demilitarized during the call, according to a tweet.